MURDER AT ALMACK’S
Jo Ann Ferguson, Mona Gedney, Valerie King

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Zebra, Apr 2003
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

In the three novellas of MURDER AT ALMACK’S, the decorous halls of Regency England’s most exclusive social club are polluted by scandal. If Polite Society thought of Almack’s as a place where people might be murdered, they might stop attending. Members of society take on the roles of investigator in these stories. They might not think of their most important role as "savior of Almack’s," but there are those who do.

"Invitation To Trouble" by Jo Ann Ferguson

Almack’s is running a contest for society maidens who meet high standards of social graces. The prize is a full season’s membership, but the winning ladies are being lethally attacked. Lord Foxington finds himself obligated to discover who has their priorities so badly skewed as to kill over a social opportunity.

The two main characters seem to have been designed to appeal to me. Amelia Wallace would rather read than party, and prefers to date chatterbox men because she can’t think of anything to say. Lord Foxington is widely known as the most boring and unresponsive of company. Once they come to an understanding that they will ignore social rules and speak honestly to each other, they find a great deal to talk about. However, a lot of what they say and do wavers back and forth between behavior appropriate for the Regency period, and behavior that is twentieth century in costume dress. The author cares only about her plot, not about historical accuracy. This would be more acceptable if the plot had any surprises in it.

"Murder Most Indiscreet" by Mona Gedney

Recorded in the wager book at White’s gambling club is a bet that Lord Palmering will get himself murdered. No one thought to bet that he would be killed at Almack’s, or that he would accuse his wife Lily with his dying breath. The accusation is dangerous to Lily’s social standing, because she usually carries bruises he has given her. With the help of Lord Brookstone, Lily’s sister Rose sets out to prove that the killer was one of the many other people Palmering has outraged.

Mona Gedney’s characters behave unpredictably without stepping too far beyond the boundaries of Regency behavior. Even if they had, I was inclined to give them leeway because they are good company and I couldn’t tell what they would do next. The author also gives us plenty of believable suspects to choose from – I guarantee you will not guess the murderer. Kudos to Gedney for an interesting step outside the standard Regency.

"A Rare Blade" by Valerie King

Lydia Sherborne is present at the horrifying death of Mr. Bentham, mentor to the Earl of Kingslade. Kingslade wants to restrain his long-time friend Lydia from getting into the investigation, but Lydia misunderstands this, and once she does understand, resents being kept out of the fun. They have to mend their mutual mistrust before they can resolve the problems caused by Bentham’s death.

There probably were society ladies who carried out spy duties during the Napoleonic Wars, and this makes the basis of Valerie King’s plot unusual but believable. The well written death of Bentham occurs under circumstances that give it a great deal of impact. On the other hand, the murderer is too obvious for the reader to miss. I found it impossible to believe that Lydia and Kingslade could have such a close friendship while carrying such a poor opinion of each other.

In MURDER AT ALMACK’S, a popular Regency plot is approached in three different ways. Society maiden meets attractive man, behaves disgracefully, but gets man anyway. If you like this plot and don’t mind widely varying levels of story quality, you will have a good time. I would have preferred to see Mona Gedney’s "Murder Most Indiscreet" be one of her separate, full length novels, to give buyers a better deal for their money. I will be watching for Gedney’s books in future, as a chance to read the unexpected in a genre which is rarely difficult to predict.

Apr 2003 Review

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